Movement and Stillness

Greetings from sunny Santa Cruz! Technically, I'm in neighboring Aptos, but it's pretty darn close. So, in any case, greetings! I'm feeling just fabulous!

Well, fabulous with a side of anxiety, a direct result of too much alone time with my thoughts. Maybe it's more accurate to say that I'm feeling just 'anxious' with a side of fabulous. fabulous with a lowercase f.  Hm...ok, so maybe fabulous isn't quite the right feeling at all.  

Let's just say, I'm having highs and lows out here on the West Coast, and over these last two days, I've been all on my own with these thoughts of mine. And sometimes my thoughts are a cool companion. Other times, my thoughts are a bunch of angsty little shit-stirrers.  And, since I decided to be all, let's get introspective and take a TV detox while I'm out here, my thoughts can get pretty moody and rowdy and altogether impossible to ignore or shut off.

In times like these, these overwrought-with-shit-stirring-thought times, thank goodness for yoga. My peaceful sanctuary, my way to quietly enjoy the presence of others while breathing space and silence into my pounding, jumpy, thunderclapping brain. And hey, It's California right? The land of yogi hippie vegan people! So, there must be TONS of Vinyasa classes available just around the corner at any hour of the day.  Not exactly, as it happens. 

With my Vinyasa options practically nonexistent, today I decided to break out of familiar territory and take an Iyengar yoga class. My first ever Iyengar inspired yoga class.  

We are, like, soooo not in Kansas anymore, Toto.  

If you're not familiar with Vinyasa or Iyengar, here's a simplified set of descriptors. Vinyasa classes tend to flow to the rhythm of the breath, with movement linked to each inhale and exhale. Some postures are held longer, but usually not for more than a few breaths. Iyengar is not like this at all. The focus of Iyengar yoga is on in-depth and detailed alignment, using a bunch of props for support, and holding poses for many breaths. Many many breaths. Many many many breaths.

The class began with a collective AUM, some additional call and repeat chanting (the Invocation to Patanjali), and a brief analysis of one of the yoga sutras of Patanjali. I don't remember which one, but it had to do with the intensity of faith and effort. How's that for vague? I admit I wasn't 100% plugged into the yoga sutra review because my monkey brain was busy kicking up the anxiety about the asana/posture part of the practice and the not-knowing quite what to expect, mixed in with some lingering self-consciousness from the previous chanting.

The movement and postures portion of practice began with a highly detailed, guided downward dog, and a series of half-sun salutations. We then moved into set of hip-and-hammie focused postures, held at extreme-to-my-unaccustomed-brain-and-body lengths. Several of the postures involved standing on one leg, with the other leg parallel to the floor, foot flexed up against the wall. During these ultra-intense standing balances, the instructor gave several incredibly useful, highly descriptive, rich and detailed cues to focus on, and plenty of encouragement to help calm the mind and keep the breath flowing. These poses all looked so still on the outside, but SOOOO much was swirling beneath the surface! It's amazing how much of a sweat you can work up by simply standing with your foot pressed against the wall.

We also did some bat-like movements. Now what do I mean by that exactly? I mean that with the support of a bunch of thick ropes hanging from the side walls and a stack of blankets, we created these little personal cradles and hung upside down and folded up like bats.  We contorted into a set of funky upside down floating positions with both feet or shins pressed up on the wall, and our heads dangling toward the ground, like bats hanging from the S. Congress bridge in ATX.

For me, going upside down is a strange mix of terrifying, invigorating, and even soothing. Once I got positioned and properly supported in my upside down bat fold (a feat in and of itself) and let go of (some) my fears about the ropes giving and landing on my head, I was able to tap into those deep forward fold benefits, and relieve some of the anxiety and negative thoughts I'd been carrying.

The way we were folding was also very intense on the hips, a place I usually tend to be quite open...but in this position, I realized I may not be as open as I think I am. The instructor talked about the vivid and concentrated emotion and anxiety we often carry in our hips..and indeed, I think this is true for me. I tend to associate the physical manifestation of my stress as living in my shoulders and neck, but these upside-down bat-like folds helped me to gain a whole new level of awareness of the stress and emotion I'm likely carrying around in my hips.

I guess Shakira was onto something. The hips don't lie. (Sorry, couldn't help myself...cue eyeroll).

Class wrapped up with seated twists, a simple bolster-supported restorative pose, shavasana, and a final collective chant of AUM. The whole experience was so incredibly different than the style and format of class I usually take...and yet so extremely familiar.

And you know what? I LOVED it! Iyengar is such an incredible compliment to Vinyasa. For me, Vinyasa is meditation facilitated by a fluid, wave-like movement, each breath signifying an ebb and a flow, a give and a take. My mind clears space with each wave of breath and movement. Iyengar is meditation facilitated by the intense modality of stillness, a focus of the mind to be fully and utterly attentive to the sensations in my body, aware of how subtle adjustments can completely alter my physical being and emotional feelings.

Two different paths, two harmonious perspectives. In the movement of Vinyasa and in the stillness of Iyengar, the breath still flows...clearing space, inviting in freedom, delivering clarity, offering strength, gifting support.

I've been anxious these past few days on my own with the rapid, constant giddyup of my mind here in this unfamiliar California setting,  But it turns out that opening myself up fully to the new experience of an Iyengar influenced yoga practice was just what I needed. Today through Iyengar, I reconnected with the importance of stillness. Stillness as a catalyst for focus, calm and renewal.  

Greetings from sunny Santa Cruz! It seems I might be feeling just Fabulous after all. With a capital F.

Slow Motion Yogi

I tend to be a slow thinker and decision maker. I spend more time than the average bear (over)analyzing and weighing all the options. If there is something I am interested in exploring or trying out, a lot of the times I end up talking myself out of it. I don't end up pursuing the thing I'm curious about because it might be too much work. Because it might not live up to expectations. Because I might feel discomfort. Because I might fail at it. Because maybe it's not for 'someone like me.'  Because I don't know how it will turn out in the end.

A lot of bullshit excuses, I know.

But, this winter, I decided to say "yes" to something I've wanted to do for a while, and I enrolled in a 9-week, 230-hour intensive yoga teacher training certification program. I submitted my application for the training at the last possible second to take advantage of the 'early bird discount', despite the little whisper in my ear that argued giving up my weekends for 9 weeks, along with loads of reading and homework and regular weeknight meetings, was too intense a time commitment. That I might not click with my peers. That I can't do super complex poses, so what business do I have trying to become a teacher? That I am not exactly a Lululemon model. That I'm not exactly the picture of serenity and Namaste and all that touchy-feely stuff, because, let's face it, I've got quite the temper at times, and I say the word 'fuck' a lot. That I would likely embarrass myself, like, a lot of the time. That I'm not sure what I'd do with a certification when I was done...would I even want to teach? That it's a lot of money to invest...and maybe it's not worth the gamble....or, if I'm being really honest...maybe I'm not worth the gamble.

 My big, bold yoga booty front-and-center, surrounded by several of my fellow teacher trainee path-mates. What a great group of yogis!

My big, bold yoga booty front-and-center, surrounded by several of my fellow teacher trainee path-mates. What a great group of yogis!

I'm so glad I decided to calmly and politely tell those voices to just relax, will ya? I've taken risks before, and I've lived to tell the tale. And as far as this particular risk, at a minimum, I would learn some cool new stuff about a practice that I love, and that in and of itself is a great reward.

And I did learn a bunch of cool stuff. And I did embarrass myself. And I did make some great new friends. And I did cry and get frustrated and feel a lot of self-doubt along the way. And I did grant myself the permission to let go of my pre-conceived "yoga teachers are all ultra bendy, healthy, Lululemon spokespeople guru" notions and just do my yoga thang and fuhgedaboudit! And I crawled waaaay outside of my comfort zone more than once. I mean, for real, I spent a day practicing contact improv and that shit's kind of weird. And I did this:

 Eff yeah, that's a HEADSTAND! MY headstand! My feet are in the air, and my head is on the ground, woohoo!

Eff yeah, that's a HEADSTAND! MY headstand! My feet are in the air, and my head is on the ground, woohoo!

The program now is over, and a lot of people have asked "what's next?" or "so where are you teaching now?" While their intentions are good and pure, these kinds of questions also immediately rush me into some of my old, dangerous thinking patterns where I assume I'm probably a failure. Because I don't know what's next, and I don't have a permanent teaching position figured out. And, I know that's ok for now, even if my anxiety brain tries to convince me that it's not. I've taught a few classes here and there, both on my own and in co-teaching settings, and right now I'm just gathering experience while I figure out how I want to move forward. Like all other things, I'm going about this at my own slow and steady pace, and that's just fine by me.

 Me, my teaching certificate, and two of my yoga mentors, M & D, the founders of Your Yoga MN.

Me, my teaching certificate, and two of my yoga mentors, M & D, the founders of Your Yoga MN.

The List 2016 Summary - The "Hits" and the "Almosts"

I meant to tie up the loose ends of my 2016 List in early January, but that didn't happen. So, he we are, and it's halfway through muther-effin April , and it's finally happening. I'm cutting myself some slack here, because my version of 2017 started off on some shaky, depressed and wary ground...and then I sold some consulting projects, and THEN I started an intensive yoga teacher training program, and got my butt all busy and running in a million directions, ok? So, things are starting to settle down again, but I'm still working to find my footing with this whole write regularly game.

Even though we're now in "Q2" of 2017, I don't want the chance to reflect on the 2016 List to slip away, especially because one of the things I enjoy about The List is the new experiences and moments of fun that it brings, and I get a lot of personal satisfaction going back and re-reading and reflecting upon my adventures, especially when the going gets rough.

I'm pleased to share that I completed 9 items from the 2016 list. Yes, it's 4 short of my goal to check off 13 items -- but frankly I think a few of my 9 should count for double duty. I mean, B & I bought a house! A HOUSE! That's a pretty major item to tackle! Also, I came really close on 5 items from my list. OK fine, so maybe saying that I came close to checking off "pet a penguin" from my list is a bit more than a stretch, but since my opinion is the one that counts here, I'm going to go with it.  So, there you have it. Once I include the 5 "almosts", then I'm actually AHEAD of the game, at 14!

Here's a quick recap of "The Hits"  

12. Visit a winery I've never been to before - This one was fun! I checked this item off x2 with a gorgeous, picturesque boutique winery in NoCal, and a quaint little gem in SW Michigan. I love me some crushed, fermented grapes!
14. Go to a candlelit Yoga class - A serene and peaceful practice, though admittedly my timing was a bit off with this item. Heading to a candlelit class in the peak of summer and late sunsets made the candles themselves a bit moot. I think I'll have to give this one another go-round.  On a different note, the write-up for this item, is one of the most read entries on my blog!
20. Write a Goodreads book review - I've somewhat gotten over my "write fright", which is a made up phrase akin to stage fright, but it's for publishing writing. Yes, it's kind of funny and weird that I experience "write fright" given I write a blog, but there you have it.  I guess I worry that if anyone reads my analyses, they may think I'm shallow and 'not smart.' But, I've now reviewed 6 books, and it turns out I'm not concerned with what other people think. Victory, yo!
43. Plant an herb garden - Dream big, yeah? Well, B & I bought a house, and then I planted some herbs in the backyard. Simple pleasures!
45. Find a family ancestral relationship to someone famous, living or dead - This is worthy of its own entry, but I never got around to writing it up. Here's the gist: I went to visit my family in my hometown of Kzoo, MI last Oct. While I was there, my dad took my sister and I to the Gilmore Car Museum, which houses a small exhibit dedicated to my great, great uncle, JB Rhodes. Considered, the "patent King" of Kalamazoo, he invented and patented numerous gadgets, from Razor blades to fishing lures, to car parts. One of his inventions, a device for railroad cars, was instrumental in building the Panama Canal. WAAAY ahead of his time, Rhodes even invented a navigation device for cars, back in the 1920s.  Here's a picture collage of me at the Gilmore Car Museum, including a few shots of the JB Rhodes exhibit.

 At the Gilmore Car Museum in Kalamazoo, MI.

At the Gilmore Car Museum in Kalamazoo, MI.

56. Run around all 3 lakes in the chain at once (Harriett, Calhoun, Isles) - I'd been meaning to do this for years, and one beautiful, breezy fall day, I finally did it - all ~10 miles. 
76. Become a homeowner - This one should count for extra bonus points! And since I make the rules, I'm going to go ahead and reward myself accordingly.
102. Work the polls at the presidential election - This was a big one too, and one of the coolest things I did last year. It deserves more of a write-up than I'm going to give it now. I am so proud to have served my city and country as an Election Judge, helping people to vote. The polling place where I was stationed ended up being the 2nd busiest precinct (out of 132 in MPLS) for same day registration and voter turnout. I firmly believe in the right to vote - and that we should make voting EASIER and not HARDER for all US citizens of legal voting age.
103. Make spaghetti squash - Spaghetti squash is delicious. And it turns out, involves using a big fucking knife to prepare it, and is kind of terrifying to make. They should call it "Machete squash" amiright?!? Ahem. Seriously though, I had to look up a Spaghetti Squash YouTube video to figure out how to cut open my spaghetti squash. The woman in the video calls her knife, "the bad boy."  Yikes!  The entire time I was hacksawing my Machete Squash, I was worried I was going to lose a finger. 

And here are the "Almosts" 

4. Take a Spanish class. - OK, so I didn't take an actual Spanish "class." But, I did download the DuoLingo App, and had a 50-day practice streak going for a while, so that kind of counts for something, no? I've fallen off the wagon and need to get back on board if I'm ever going to learn.
8. Run a 5k in under a half hour. - I came close to this one, but didn't quite hit the mark. When my sister came to visit last April, we signed up for the Goldy's Run 5K.  I finished with a time of 31:43 (10:13 min/mile). I've still got a lot of time to shave off (34 seconds/mile, to be exact). However, I've come a long way already. and I finished in the top 3rd overall (for women in my age division) and top half overall.
23. Relive B and my first date in Chicago. -  Our first date, back on January 5 (or 6), 2007 involved dinner at Kinzie Chop House followed by drinks at a piano bar. This summer, we took a weekend jaunt to the city, and enjoyed dinner at the chop house. How has it been 10 years already?! A
63. Pet a Penguin. - Yeah yeah,  I already confessed that came nowhere CLOSE to petting a penguin. BUT, I did visit the new Penguin exhibit at the Detroit Zoo with my husband and in-laws, and it was all kinds of fun and adorbs!  Here is a photo of my new penguin friends.

 Visiting the Polk Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo

Visiting the Polk Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo

80. Buy coffee for a stranger. I didn't buy coffee for a stranger, but when I was flying to SFO for my best gf's bachelorette party, I managed to score a free smoothie, and happily gifted it to a stranger in line...who happily accepted!

Whew!  So, that's 2016! Now, onto the 2017 List adventures. I'm already well on my way with some big ones for 2017, so I'd better get to writing. Weeee!